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Bright prospects for children’s publishing in India

One of my highlights of visiting India as a kid was to buy an obscenely large number of Tinkles and Amar Chitra Kathas. I was so accustomed to reading Western children’s literature that to me these books with stories (and stereotypes as I later discovered) rooted in India and free of stuffy British aristocracy felt like kindling a broken cultural connection.

Thankfully, kids today don’t have to make the same choices. Over the last two decades, children’s publishing in India has burgeoned, moving away from quasi-encyclopaedic tomes to works that break with the industry’s earlier conservatism and span a variety of genres. Part of this has been driven by Tara Books, Karadi Tales and Tulika Publishers, which focus solely on children’s books and helped build up an ecosystem of children’s publishing in the country.

More recently, even other publishers have seen the green (if not storytelling possibilities) of the children’s book segment. Two recent children’s book imprints are Talking Cub and HarperCollins Children’s Books, both of which were officially launched on Children’s Day last year. Their initial bets are entertainment-driven, not a bad choice in a market where educators and parents still largely expect children’s books to edify.

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Looking forward — 2018: When it comes to literature, mythology rules the roster, says Namita Gokhale

Publishing is an unpredictable business. Even so, one of the trends in the world of books that I discern in 2018 and coming years, is mythology. The space for books based on Indian mythology has grown immensely since the time I wrote the children’s Mahabharata and In Search of Sita (2009), and I foresee that it will grow even further in the years to come.

This is because in India, people relate a lot to myth; myths form a reference point for our contemporary lives.The success of books in this genre have led to so obscure figures from Indian mythology being brought into the limelight such as Urmila, Menaka, etc. My latest book is on Ghatotkach, and the response to it has been amazing. Reader or publisher fatigue with mythology space hasn’t started.

I truly think that the dumbing down of the publishing industry is finally being reversed, and this is a trend that will become more evident in the coming year. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the stupider the book was, the more readers you would get. Now, even the aspirational readers want to be challenged now by what they read. They are no longer satisfied with reading material simply because it is easy to assimilate; they want books that will stimulate their minds.

I also predict that speculative fiction, especially quality speculative fiction—a genre that not many Indians wrote in—will take off in a big way. Short, nano stories will also find their place, but provided the writers find the right format. Another trend that will slowly unfold over the years to come is that of enhanced fiction—audio books and the like, which bring into play the other sensory facilities such as voice, even smell, some say and are interactive. These serve to make reading a complete experience.

Many people in the publishing industry say that literary fiction has had its day—I agree with this assessment, but with some reservations. It is true that in many ways, literary fiction had become narcissistic and self-obsessed in recent years. Publishers also liked to play it safe; they need to be a little a less cute and a bit more adventurous.In contrast, genre fiction, especially crime fiction, has taken off in a big way in recent years. But even here, we need more of quality and perhaps, less of quantity.

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In China: Bookselling Trends and OpenBook’s Bestseller Lists for October

As we report news from the 2017 Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair, we also have our monthly listings on overall Chinese bestselling books, produced through a partnership with OpenBook in China and the US-based distribution network Trajectory. Details of what’s reflected in these charts appears at the end of the story.

Our colleague Rainy Liu reports that there’s a notable trend in China toward publisher-owned bookstores, and this is a phenomenon seen among both private and state-owned publishers.

In August, for example, Liu tells us, the Singapore-based bookstore Page One was acquired by Chinese publisher Thinkingdom Media Group Ltd, which recently was listed as a publicly traded corporation. The company, we’re told, anticipates retaining the Page One brand’s coffeehouse style with food and beverage service in addition to books.

Meanwhile, state-owned publisher Citic Press Group has opened 69 bookstores in close to a dozen airports in China.

Another development attracting retail attention is that of the “shared bookstore,” which is a kind of library service now seen in Beijing and Shanghai. The trend is reported to have been seen first in Hefei, in China’s eastern Anhui province in July.

As an article in People’s Daily describes it, “Customers are allowed to borrow up to two books valued under 150 yuan per visit (US$22.75) after registering with an app and paying the 99 yuan deposit fee (US$15).

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The Literary Oligarchy is Killing Writing

With the staggering rise of wealth inequality and the increasing concentration of ideas and access to an audience in the hands of a few, largely elite writers, it’s the voices on the margins that need to be heard.

Years ago, when I was first trying to make a name for myself as a writer, a prominent Indian novelist and one whom I admired told me I was being a fool to ever think my fiction – influenced by the American and European modernists I grew up reading – would ever be accepted by the mostly white boy club of the terminally hip who ruled New York City publishing – the trustafarian rich kids who defined cool, and by extension, who got published, who got reviewed and who got attention.

He told me to start wearing a turban and pen a gritty but ultimately celebratory novel about Sikhs in California, where I grew up – be the native informant for the bored white US searching for a new ethnicity to discover, consume, go all gaga over and ultimately discard. That way, he said, lay my surest path to even the slimmest foothold in the literary world.

I ignored his advice and told him so. What he described sounded like self-cannibalisation to me. For me, the whole point of writing – great writing at least – was that at its heart it promoted a fundamental freedom of the mind to engage the world in whatever way one chooses. Soon after, the prominent writer made a point of “dropping” me. I suspect he decided my poor judgment proved I was never going to be famous enough for him to waste his energy cultivating while my insufficient sycophancy was in no way going to compensate.

At the time, I had written two novels. One was about an enormously fat satellite television magnate who gets eaten by a huge fish; the second about a wild girl found in the mountains of an imaginary Asian country. While the former suffered from many usual first novel failures, the latter, I believed, and still do, genuinely succeeded.

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The Myth of the Disappearing Book

After years of sales growth, major publishers reported a fall in their e-book sales for the first time this year, introducing new doubts about the potential of e-books in the publishing industry. A Penguin executive even admitted recently that the e-books hype may have driven unwise investment, with the company losing too much confidence in “the power of the word on the page.”

Yet despite the increasing realisation that digital and print can easily coexist in the market, the question of whether the e-book will “kill” the print book continues to surface. It doesn’t matter if the intention is to predict or dismiss this possibility; the potential disappearance of the book does not cease to stimulate our imagination.

Why is this idea so powerful? Why do we continue to question the encounter between e-books and print books in terms of a struggle, even if all evidence points to their peaceful coexistence?

The answers to these questions go beyond e-books and tell us much more about the mixture of excitement and fear we feel about innovation and change. Read more


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India: Chiki Sarkar and Karthika: Star Publishers Do What They Gotta Do

When a book really impresses you, you hold the writer in high regard. But do you ever think of the publisher who made the final product possible?

Editors and publishers are the backbone of any publishing house. Karthika VK, Publisher and Chief Editor of HarperCollins India, announced her departure after almost 10 years at the helm – coming a year after Ananth Padmanabhan took charge as its CEO.

It provokes one question: will HarperCollins India’s direction change after her departure? Does any publication become affected by its publisher’s exit? Read more


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There is still a lot of room for debut writing: Interview with Indian literary agent Kanishka Gupta

by Zafar Anjum

In this in-depth interview, novelist and now a well-known literary agent, Kanishka Gupta, talks about his journey of becoming a literary agent and shares his observations on the publishing trends in India. Gupta’s agency, The Writers Side, represents more than 400 writers. 

kANIMG-20151018-WA0002How do you look back onyour journey of being a literary agent? Did you always believe that you would succeed as an agent?

When I look back on my journey I marvel at how I managed to survive and get even this far. I have no qualifications to be a publishing professional and became an agent without a proper understanding of the role of an agent, nor did I have any contacts in publishing. I knew only Ravi Singh (then the head of Penguin India) who was introduced to me by novelist Namita Gokhale. Through him I met his colleague Vaishali Mathur, who was just setting up the Metroreads imprint. I remember how I sold some of my early books for zero advances because a publisher told me they had a no-advance policy. Later on, I came to know the same publisher was shelling out even seven-figure advances to big authors and foreign agents. I also didn’t know what an agency clause was and actually let my authors sign directly with publishers without any mention of myself in the agreement. Obviously the authors paid me my due share on time, but this is not how ‘professional’ agents function. One thing I did right was wait for the right manuscript to make my debut as an agent. Surprisingly my first two submissions–the now-famed Anees Salim’s two books and Singapore-based Navneet Jagannathan’s Shakti Bhatt-shortlisted Tamasha in Bandaragon–got multiple offers. I knew about auctions but didn’t know how they were conducted. I thought just because publishers had deigned to make an offer to a wannabe agent, I should fall at their feet with the manuscripts and shed tears of joy. I remember I learnt the process while actually auctioning them. A publisher called me and chided me for revealing the rival bidder’s name to her. ‘You never do that Kanishk,’ she said.

Apart from Shobhaa De and Namita Gokhale, I was lucky enough to find influential supporters along the way. The writer and journalist Sheela Reddy introduced me to a lot of senior journalists after I assisted her with her book deal. Rakhshanda Jalil introduced me to half of Pakistan’s literary community and several other writers because she liked my aggression. For a wannabe publishing professional who did nothing but invest Rs 7,000 in setting up a ghastly website, I got a lot of media attention. One week after the launch of my website, the noted writer and critic Jai Arjun Singh featured an interview with me in Sunday Business Standard alongside my guru Shobhaa De’s interview. Even more surprising was a half page devoted in the main Indian Express a few weeks later. I don’t think I can manage that even now. I think there were at least a dozen pieces on Writer’s Side when it launched and I can’t figure for the life of me why! Mine is the unlikeliest story in Indian publishing, like it or not! Continue reading


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Publishing industry is overwhelmingly white and female, US study finds

Survey of workforce at 34 book publishers and eight review journals in US reveals 79% of staff are white and 78% female – with UK numbers still unmonitored: The Guardian

A survey of American publishing has found that it is blindingly white and female, with 79% of staff white and 78% women.

Multicultural children’s publisher Lee & Low Books surveyed staff at 34 American publishers, including Penguin Random House and Hachette , as well as eight review journals, to establish a baseline to measure diversity among publishing staff. They found that 79% were white. Of the remainder, Asians/Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders made up 7.2% of staff, Hispanics/Latinos/Mexicans 5.5%, and black/African Americans 3.5%. Continue reading


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“Celebrate Singapore Books” Fair to be held on 16 June; The Singapore Book Awards revived

Celebrate Singapore BooksThe Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) and Isetan Singapore will celebrate Singapore publishing by organising a “Celebrate Singapore Books” fair from 16 to 30 June 2015. The fair will also be the site of several book signings, a reading corner and an exhibition on books published in Singapore since 1965.

The Singapore Book Publishers Association is a trade association formed in 1968, to protect and promote the book publishing industry in Singapore. The SBPA now comprises 66 members, which publish in a wide range of topics in the four official languages of Singapore. Our members include SMEs and the top multinational publishing groups.

The whole space of Isetan Wisma Atria basement level (some 15,000 square feet) will be converted into a sales and exhibition area made up of Singapore publishers featuring local writers and illustrators in the English, Malay and Mandarin languages. A wide range of books will be available for purchase, from trade best-sellers to religious books, children’s books and educational and assessment books. All will be available for purchase, many at special prices, to promote literacy and the joy of reading during the school holidays.

SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS 2015

The Singapore Book Publishers Association is pleased to announce the revival of the Singapore Book Awards for 2015. The Singapore Book Awards aims to promote the finest of the book publishing industry in Singapore. Nominations are now open till 31 August, and the winners will be announced at a gala cocktail event in conjunction with the Singapore Writers’ Festival in November 2015. Continue reading


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The State & Future of Publishing in Sri Lanka

by Sam Perera

Among bookshops that are closing down, are those that are thriving. Amid unattractive displays, narrow aisles and dusty shelves, dedicated readers linger, browse, ferret around and thumb through an ever increasing selection of new publications. This steady stream of quiet, cultured consumers is the coveted audience of writers, publishers and booksellers alike.

So what are people reading, and in multi-lingual Lanka, in what language? Not surprisingly, the demographic is divided proportionally among Sri Lanka’s linguistic groups with the Sinhala readership grabbing the lion’s share. Poets abound and poetry primes – again, not surprisingly as Sinhala is a witty tongue with which the dullest of us laugh at the direst of situations with wry humour. University Dons turned poets – like Liyanage Amarakeerthi or those who have shown the way like Gunadasa Amarasekera display an enviable mastery of the language and their works are much sought after by readers of the esoteric.  Edward Mallawaarachchi’s novels are liberally rose-tinted and calculated to please an analogous readership to that of Mills & Boon. Like many writers of this genre, he is not alone and his work competes fiercely with authors like Sujeeva Prasanna Aarachchi or Samindra Ratnayake. Continue reading